While it’s unfortunate that we need the motion, I have to commend our leader, Patrick Brown, on this motion he’s tabled today. I’m so proud that our party has brought forward the accountability and ethics action plan today because, Speaker, it sends a clear message that if Premier Wynne and her cabinet can’t be counted on to do the right thing, then the Ontario PC Party is working hard, and we’re going to do the right thing: We’re going to bring ethics and accountability and transparency back to Queen’s Park.
I look down at the measures that we’re proposing today, and I know that the members are going to try to heckle these proposed measures, but I’m reminded of the number of times I have raised these issues in question period. Yet time and again, this Premier and her cabinet ministers refuse the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions.
There’s one word that pops up repeatedly when it comes to reviewing this government’s behaviour, and that word is “unprecedented.”
I wrote the Chief Electoral Officer in December 2014, asking for an investigation into the alleged breaches of the Election Act by Liberal operatives in the Sudbury by-election. In his bombshell report a few months later, the Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa, found “apparent contraventions ... of the Election Act.... Consequently, I have reported this matter to the Attorney General of Ontario.” That’s a quote. It was, in Mr. Essensa’s words, “unprecedented.” Never before had Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer investigated—let alone reported—an apparent contravention of the Election Act.
As we all know, this sordid tale only gets worse. For months, the Premier refused to ask her deputy chief of staff, who was at the heart of the OPP probe, to step aside. That kept the scandal right inside the Premier’s office, undermining the public’s confidence in the highest elected office in this province. It wasn’t until OPP laid charges against Pat Sorbara for alleged bribery in the by-election that she stepped aside.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but the situation gets even worse. We learned that the Minister of Energy himself was named in those charges. It was—and here’s that word again—unprecedented. Now, parliamentary custom would dictate an immediate course of action: A minister of the crown would do the right thing and step aside until their name was cleared. There are many circumstances of ministers in far, far less serious circumstances taking that honourable route. I want to mention my colleague the member for Simcoe–Grey, Jim Wilson, who, when a cabinet minister—and also my predecessor in Leeds–Grenville, Bob Runciman, now Senator Runciman. They knew to do the right thing. Both those gentlemen knew to do the right thing. They didn’t need legislation. They didn’t need a motion before the House. They willingly stepped aside temporarily and returned once exonerated.
Liberals used to understand this. The former Minister of Finance, Greg Sorbara, was named in a 2005 RCMP warrant, and he stepped away from cabinet. There’s never any shame, never any dishonour in doing the right thing.
But in the midst of our demands for the Minister of Energy to step down, 15 newspapers, including his hometown Sudbury Star, wrote editorials in agreement. They wrote that the minister “needs to step aside and allow the justice system to take its course. This is, after all, the great province of Ontario, where the rule of law is paramount. We’re not a banana republic.
“In any previous government, the slightest whiff of scandal caused ministers to quit. To have one mentioned in an Election Act trial is unprecedented.” And there’s that word again, Speaker: “unprecedented.”
The editorial concluded:
“Respect the integrity of the justice system and of cabinet.
“Step down, Mr. Thibeault.”
Of course, the minister didn’t do the right thing. The Premier refused to intervene. She refused to demand it. That’s why our accountability and ethics action plan includes that provision, to legislate ministerial responsibility. It’s going to require ministers named in a police investigation to step aside until they’re cleared of any wrongdoing.
Provisions 3 and 4 in our plan go directly to an issue I raised in question period regarding the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’s former chief of staff. As we know, he left his position as the minister’s right-hand man to take a government relations job with Tesla in February. And guess what happened in February? The government reinstated a subsidy that gave Tesla buyers up to $14,000. That doesn’t pass the smell test. I happen to think Ontarians side with me. It does not pass the smell test, and that’s why we’re committed to strengthening the rules beyond the one-year ban on ministerial staff lobbying their former ministry.
We’re also proposing a measure to require ministers to make public the results of an Integrity Commissioner’s investigation into ministerial staff. That’s not the case, regardless of what was said this morning by the government House leader. I found this out when I wrote the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the situation involving the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change’s former chief of staff. The commissioner responded to say that he could investigate, but it was up to the minister to make any findings public.
I think that’s completely unacceptable. If the Integrity Commissioner files a report with the minister, it shouldn’t go into a filing cabinet. It’s got to be made public at the earliest opportunity, which is what our plan proposes.
Our plan includes much more to start rebuilding the confidence that Ontarians have in the integrity of the government. But I want to make one thing clear: It’s too late for this Premier. I hear every day from people who see through the cynical attempts by this government to fool voters and to say they have changed their ways. The hydro plan: They’ve had plenty of ads to promote the government but no legislation to enact it. Their so-called balanced budget: People on this side of the House have pointed out that there’s a $5-billion hole from it being in balance. Ontarians aren’t buying any of it, because at a fundamental level they’ve lost trust and they’ve lost faith in this government. Life is harder under Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals, and it won’t be better until a government comes forward that will always act in the interests of Ontarians, not in the Liberals’ self-interest.
Our plan sends a clear message that Ontario PCs will rebuild their faith in government and act with integrity. Reasonable people are going to disagree about policy, but the public expects the Premier and ministers to always act with accountability and transparency.
Our motion is a big step in ensuring that those standards are met. I want to again congratulate Patrick Brown on doing it. But our work won’t be finished until this government is sent packing on June 7, 2018. That’s the goal. That’s what we think should happen. Integrity will then reign, transparency will reign. We will restore it. I hope all members support this motion. It’s the right motion for the right time.